SANTOS PORT VOLUME HITS RECORD DESPITE IMPORT DIP

SANTOS PORT VOLUME HITS RECORD DESPITE IMPORT DIP

Cargo volume at this largest Latin American port reached a record 38.5 million tons last year, according to port figures.

Officials with the port agency, known by its acronym Codesp, said the 5.85 percent increase signals a fourth consecutive annual record. The performance was achieved ''in spite of a fall in imports and the speeding up of the port reform process,'' a Codesp representative said.Exports jumped 14 percent, while import volume actually dipped 0.2 percent. Codesp claims to be the prime agent behind the export performance, with growth of 17.4 percent, while the five private terminals posted a combined increase of 1.3 percent. Container handling rose 6 percent to 580,600 20-foot equivalent units, with a 35 percent increase in exports. The main container terminal has increased container volume by 8.8 percent since being privatized in September. And private operator Santos Brazil says it has improved productivity, now handling an average 22 containers an hour, up from 13 at the end of 1996.

A breakdown of goods points to a record volume of sugar, either in bulk at 887,000 tons (up 39 percent), or in bags at 1 million tons. Soy exports climbed 69.5 percent to 1.33 million tons. Coffee, which is historically responsible for the development of Santos, registered more modest growth of 19 percent, while fuels showed the largest percentage increase at 112 percent.

Santos is urgently trying to change its negative reputation as a congested, inefficient, strike-ridden port. The port continues to modernize, and more than half the terminals are now managed by private operators.